The Indians will look to return to their winning ways in a tough series against the Angels. The Tribe’s pitching will be crucial in determining the outcome.
The Cleveland Indians dropped two of three to the Houston Astros in the first series of a nine-game home stand. Without harping too much on moral victories, it was a relatively encouraging tilt despite the end result.
Shane Bieber dueled with Justin Verlander in the first game, a 2-0 loss in which Verlander was simply the best version of himself. The Indians rocked Jose Urquidy in Game 2, and then held Gerrit Cole to his second-lowest strikeout total of the season in a game ultimately put out of reach by a bullpen meltdown on Cleveland’s part.
The Indians will welcome their second of three straight AL West foes to Progressive Field this weekend, as Mike Trout and the Angels try to climb into the wild card race. Let’s take a look at an opponent the Tribe doesn’t see all that often.
Friday, 7:10 PM EST – RHP Mike Clevinger vs. LHP Dillon Peters
Mike Clevinger is coming off a phenomenal month of July in which he allowed just six earned runs across 31 innings and struck out 11.90 hitters per nine innings. In addition to his filthy strikeout stuff, Clevinger also induced ground balls at a 51.4% clip in his five July starts.
He’ll have to batten down the hatches against the Angels, who proudly own the lowest strikeout rate in baseball.
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Lefty Dillon Peters worked out of the bullpen a handful of times earlier in the season before being slotted into the rotation near the end of July. In his two starts, he’s logged nine total innings and allowed two earned runs.
Peters doesn’t strike many hitters out, and he allows a healthy amount of hard contact and fly balls. This looks to be a fine matchup for the Indians’ two new right-handed power bats–Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes–to show off their abilities.
Saturday, 7:10 PM EST – RHP Adam Plutko vs. RHP Felix Pena
Adam Plutko will get the nod on Saturday as the Indians try to claw their way through the final stages of Corey Kluber’s road back to the mound in a post-Trevor-Bauer world. The wheels have come off in a few of Plutko’s nine starts this season, but he’s also done a decent job at keeping things together with traffic on the base paths and giving the offense a chance to win.
Finding a way to navigate out of jams is a necessity for a pitcher with a 48.3% fly ball rate and a 14.5% strikeout rate. His style of pitching will be tested against the Angels.
Righty Felix Pena has bounced back and forth between roles this season, operating as both a starter and a bulk reliever. His 4.66 ERA is less than stellar, but he also sports a solid 25.1% strikeout rate while primarily inducing grounders.
Pena’s first-strike rate of 58% ranks 90th out of 100 pitchers who have thrown at least 90 innings, so the Indians would do well to work the count against him.
Sunday, 1:10 PM EST – RHP Shane Bieber vs. RHP Jaime Barria
Shane Bieber stood tall in his last start, giving the Indians seven innings in which he allowed just two earned runs against the imposing Astros lineup. Most impressive was his ability to consistently navigate through trouble, as he allowed nine hits.
You don’t often allow nine hits to a team like Houston and get out of it with just two earned runs. Bieber also struck out eight hitters, another laudable achievement against that offense. He’ll need to be just as sharp against the Angels, who boast a deceptively solid offense despite their average record.
Speaking of deceptive, Jaime Barria’s 6.28 ERA is largely the result of two disastrous outings: 3.2 IP, 10 ER on July 19, and 1.2 IP, 7 ER on April 27. Outside of those two tailspins, he’s been more serviceable than his ERA indicates.
In Barria’s five starts, he’s gone exactly five innings each time, with four earned runs being his season-high in such outings. He gives up a decent amount of fly balls at a 43.5% rate.
Three Tricks to Triumph
Exploit pitching matchups – After dealing with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole earlier in the week, the Indians are going to be happy to see just about anybody else on the mound for the opposing team. That said, these matchups can’t be taken for granted, and must be capitalized on–starting with lefty Dillon Peters.
Since the Indians embarked on their climb back into contention on June 1, they own the ninth-best wRC+ in baseball against left-handed pitching at 106. That has to be on full display on Friday night.
More than anything else, though, the Indians are sending their two best pitchers to the mound in this series. I’m not even sure who you would call the best pitcher in an Angels rotation that has combined for a 5.25 ERA on the year–the sixth-worst mark in the league.
Break out the Gold Gloves – The Angels put the ball in play more often than any other team in the league. Even with strikeout pitchers like Bieber and Clevinger set to take the hill this weekend, we can count on a lot of contact out of the opposition. Interestingly enough, the Indians own the fourth-best contact rate in the league.
Outside of Cleveland’s clear advantage in starting pitching, this series has a chance to be heavily influenced by defense. The Indians are going to have to make the plays they shouldn’t make this weekend.
The new guys – Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes both had respectable debuts with the Tribe in Thursday’s series finale against Houston. Puig laced a couple of heat-seeking missiles into the outfield, one of which turned into a double off the left field wall. Reyes swatted a ball through the left side of the infield for a single in his first plate appearance.
The front office would not have traded away Trevor Bauer if it didn’t believe these two players gave the Indians a chance to win the World Series in 2019. Facing a three-game deficit behind the Twins in the AL Central race, there is no time to waste.
In the end, it doesn’t matter who is responsible for the runs scored or driven in if the end result is a victory. But if Puig and Reyes are able to put on a show in their first full series with their new team–at home, no less–the excitement level in Cleveland will be immeasurable.
And the anxiety level in Minnesota might ramp up a notch or two, as well.